The first piece of jewellery Vihari Poddar ever designed and sold was an engagement ring for her English teacher, Ms Ann Mary. The then- 15-year-old had noticed her teacher browsing rings online and offered to create something bespoke for her. When Ms Ann Mary agreed, Vihari was thrilled. “I felt awesome when she decided to go ahead with me and support me,” she recalls. “It was the best feeling in the world at that time to have convinced her to wear a ring I designed specially for her.”
Receiving that vote of confidence as a teenager marked the start of what has become Vihari’s vocation – designing beautiful, timeless jewellery. Now, almost 18 years later, she is the managing director and designer of her eponymous jewellery label, Vihari Jewels. She started the company out of a pure, unabashed love for quality stones and gorgeous jewels, which came with being born into a lineage of gem traders.
A girl’s best friend
Growing up, Vihari was always enamoured with diamonds and knew early on that she wanted to join the industry. She often travelled to trade shows with her father Rajesh Sheth, current chairman of House of Gems, and spent her summer breaks at his office. “I would help him count diamonds, weigh them, sort them into their different boxes and check his inventory,” she recounts fondly. “It was amazing to be able to play with diamonds – they are a girl’s best friend after all!”
She went on to graduate with a business degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and then spent six months working with her father and learning the ropes. During that stint, however, she realised that gem trading was not quite for her. “I found it rather difficult to deal with the raw object and selling it as a commodity,” Vihari explains. “Whenever I saw the diamonds I always imagined them in beautiful designs and how they would look on someone’s ears or neck or fingers.”
Following her creative calling, she made the decision to go to Italy to further educate herself in jewellery manufacturing and design before establishing Vihari Jewels in 2006. The Singaporean brand is known for its high-end jewels and operates on an appointment-only basis from its Ngee Ann City office.
Thirteen years on, Vihari’s passion for her work has not wavered. What has changed though, is her business as well as herself – both of which the 33-year-old says are at a new level of maturity. “I feel I have grown up after having two kids, and being more mature has added a whole new dimension to every aspect of my business, from the product design to the presentation of the jewellery and ever-improving profile of clients,” she says. “It’s been steady and sure progress with tons of lessons along the way.”
Some of these lessons were tough pills to swallow. While becoming a mother has helped Vihari grow as a jeweller and entrepreneur, it has also been the biggest challenge in her career. “I always thought I would be a working mum but once I had my kids, I fell in love all over again and I didn’t have the heart to leave them at home,” she says of her daughter Kiara, 5, and son Dhrissh, 2. “My heart was always with them when I went to work and I knew I would never get that time with my kids back once I missed the boat. I wanted to be involved in their lives.”
Faced with the difficult dilemma of missing out on her children’s crucial years or stepping back from her “first baby”, she harked back to words of wisdom from her two greatest role models – her parents. “My mother has always believed in a work-life balance and that ‘family always comes first’,” says Vihari. “I agree with her completely and it’s one of the most valuable lessons I have learnt from her.” Further cementing her mother’s words were her father’s: “When you make a decision, your heart and your mind both need to feel the same way.”
Going with her heart and mind, Vihari hit pause on her career for about four years from 2014 to 2018, albeit not completely. “Making that decision was difficult and a major setback; I reduced the time spent on my business to about 20 percent,” she estimates. “I still managed to do a few events when my kids were newborns and just brought them with me everywhere I went. I have to admit it was extremely tiring, but thankfully with the support of my husband and parents, I was able to pull through.”
Juggling work and family is still a challenge but now that her children are a little older, Vihari has been able to manage better. “I’ve been giving my business a lot more energy and this year is my comeback year,” she declares.
Brighter than ever
And she’s right on track, if the success of her jewellery collections are anything to go by. They are split into four categories: the High Jewellery Collection, currently focusing on extremely rare, unheated pigeon-blood Burmese rubies (one of these is a 13ct ruby that is one of the largest of its kind in the world); the Waterfall Collection, featuring fluid pieces with white diamonds; the Rainbow Collection, showcasing gems of all colours; and the Limited Collection, with only 15 to 20 pieces made flaunting rare stones (last year, the pieces ranged from sparkling vivid yellow diamond creations to delightful bumblebee rings, earrings and bangles).
Her latest Limited Collection, La Mariposa, was inspired by the transformation of a young girl into a sophisticated woman, evoking the imagery of the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The exclusive pieces, which are all sold out, featured rare Argyle pink diamonds from the Argyle Mine in remote Western Australia that is set to close this year.
Come February, the jeweller is launching yet another quirky, nature-inspired Limited Collection of 20 to 25 pieces that will feature ladybirds. To enhance the jewellery’s liveliness and showcase the brand’s artistry, each ladybird will flaunt transformable wings that can open and close. “I’ve always loved ladybirds,” gushes Vihari. “They’re cute, whimsical and perfect to carry the new set of rubies we’ve recently acquired.”
And she has bigger ambitions yet: “I’ve always wanted to be the Singaporean brand that has the best high-end jewels in the country, and my efforts are always to push the envelope with even better designs, year on year.”
One of her dreams is to have a Vihari Jewels store set up in the concept of an art gallery. “Each piece will be exclusive and have its own story,” shares Vihari, who is in talks with several malls here to find a suitable space. While it is proving to be a difficult task, she is in no rush to pull this off, preferring to take the time to perfectly execute it. “Ultimately it has to be the right location,” she asserts. “Then I’m ready to seize the next great opportunity!”
On the cover: High Jewellery Collection in white gold with 13ct Colombian No Oil emeralds and white marquise-shaped diamonds; ring in platinum with a 20ct Colombian emerald and pavé emeralds totalling 6ct, both by Vihari Jewels. Coat, by Kate Spade
Fashion direction: Johnny Khoo
Art direction: Aaron Lee
Photography: Cher Him
Styling: Jacquie Ang
Hair: Christvian Goh/ARX using Kevin Murphy
Makeup: Wee Ming, using Dior Beauty
Photography assistance: Yang Shi Hui
Fashion assistance: Bernadetha Woendardi